European World Cup Playoffs: Four Things To Watch

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By then end of the day Tuesday, the World Cup participants from Europe will be decided. Here are the four things you to be looking out for.

Ronaldo v. Zlatan II

World football has made a lot of this battle and with good reason – Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are two behemoths of the game. And on Tuesday one of them will find himself condemned to a summer of watching the 2014 World Cup on the couch. The edge right now is in Ronnie’s favor, after his header was the decisive goal in Portugal’s 1-0 victory last Friday in Lisbon.

Most seem to think that’s that and Portugal has run away with this thing. But that’s a mistake that Ibra has pounced on countless times throughout his career. Give him the excuse and he’ll do it again. Especially when buoyed by the home crowd in Solna and especially when his side aren’t supposed to win.

Which they’re not. Portugal are hands-down the better side, which is precisely (and ironically) what has put them in the current predicament of needing to qualify through a play-off. Brace yourself.

Tough Times In France

It’s nice to have France around if for nothing else but a reminder that no matter how bad things are with your national team, they could be a heck of a lot worse. Despite having talent for days, Les Bleus screwed the pooch last week when they dropped the first leg of their playoff to 0-2 at the Ukraine.

To most people the result, while unfortunate, wouldn’t be the end of the world, especially considering the second leg is in Paris. But to the French, it’s curtains, as only 16% of the public (as surveyed in Le Parisien) believe Les Bleus can advance to the 2014 World Cup.

16%? That’s disgraceful.

With that pathetic amount of confidence, perhaps France should lose and end all of the misery that team has caused since their boycott antics back in South Africa 2010. Ask any good Irishman and they you France shouldn’t have had that honor either – but that’s a whole other piece of crepe.

Go On, Iceland!

If you have a heart then you have to support those loveable blondes to the north, Iceland, as they take on Croatia. Strákarnir okkar (Our boys) managed a 0-0 draw in Reykjavik meaning it’s all to play for in Zagreb on Tuesday. While winning away will be an uphill battle for Iceland, Croatia’s previous home form will give the underdogs confidence as the Croats previously lost to Scotland and Belgium during home turf qualifiers.

If Iceland do succeed in winning they will become the least populous country (at 320,000 inhabitants) ever to play at a World Cup. Fascinating stuff.

Not Your Father’s Greece

So long the butt of all stylistic football jokes in Europe, Greece appear to have finally shed their brutally defensive style in favor of flair and goals. Last Friday they were a joy to watch, suffocating the Romanian defense with clever through-balls and inventive play that resulted in three well-worked goals and a 3-1 victory.

The effort marked the first time the Greeks scored more than twice in a competitive game since a 3-1 win over Malta in June 2011. Oh, how they times they are a changing! And while they may fall into a more defensive scheme to preserve the precious lead, don’t be surprised if come June people are using words like “quality” when describing Greece.

Well, perhaps that’s a bit much. But they are a much improved side and worth a watch, if only for a quick bit.

Mexico star Marquez back at Atlas after US drug sanctions

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Mexican soccer star Rafael Marquez is back with his club more than a month after the U.S. Treasury Department named him on a sanctions list for alleged drug trafficking ties.

Atlas said Monday that the 38-year-old defender is practicing with the team again.

In August, Marquez was among 22 people sanctioned by the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. He was accused of acting as a frontman for the Raul Flores Hernandez drug trafficking organization.

Marquez has denied any wrongdoing and said he will work to clear his name. He is not known to face any criminal charges in the United States or Mexico.

Atlas says Marquez will continue his legal fight while at the team.

Marquez has played internationally with AS Monaco, Barcelona and the New York Red Bulls.

Wolfsburg hires Martin Schmidt after firing Andries Jonker

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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) Wolfsburg has hired Martin Schmidt to coach the Bundesliga side as a swift replacement for Andries Jonker.

[ MORE: PL Playback — Koeman, Everton facing significant pressure ]

Jonker was fired on Monday after less than seven months in charge, with Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Stuttgart leaving Wolfsburg with four points from its opening four league games of the new campaign.

The 50-year-old Schmidt has signed a contract through 2019 and he will take charge of Tuesday’s game against Werder Bremen.

The Swiss coach left Mainz by mutual consent in May after almost three years in charge. Mainz finished last season in 15th place in the Bundesliga, above Wolfsburg on goal difference. Wolfsburg only survived in the Bundesliga last season by a winning a playoff.

More AP German soccer coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/Bundesliga

Swapping cleats for gloves: Rio Ferdinand to become a boxer

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It wouldn’t be the first time a professional athlete has tried his hand at another sport, but this one is a bit surprising.

[ MORE: Leicester-Liverpool highlights Tuesday’s Carabao Cup action ]

The Telegraph is reporting that ex-Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand is poised to become a professional boxer and is expected to announce his decision on Tuesday.

The 38-year-old has been a pundit for BBC and BT Sport since retiring from soccer 2015, but the six-time Premier League winner appears ready to tackle a new venture.

Ferdinand will attempt to follow in the footsteps of former Sheffield United striker Curtis Woodhouse — who went on to become British light-welterweight champion.

Below is a video Ferdinand posted to his Instagram account on Monday which appears to show him practice dodging with a personal trainer.

Dodging Rain Drops…. Reaction Drill… Keep Moving!! 💧🎾 @chrisvarnavas

A post shared by Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) on

Cavani, Neymar feud presents questions about PSG chemistry

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Paris Saint-Germain picked up its sixth consecutive win to start the Ligue 1 season on Sunday, but something else happened during the team’s 2-0 victory over Lyon that should be a show for concern.

[ MORE: Bayern keeper Neuer injuries foot, could miss months ]

In fact, two notable sequences occurred during the match that proved money cannot buy chemistry — or how the saying goes.

The issues on both occasions were between summer signing Neymar and Edinson Cavani — who has been with PSG since 2013.

First, a free kick situation arose where Cavani had appeared that he was going to take the set piece, until Brazilian defender Dani Alves stepped in and took the ball and proceeded to give it to his national and club teammate, Neymar.

The second occurence was even more embarrassing though, as Neymar and Cavani argued over who would take a penalty kick, which Cavani ultimately got his way before having his shot saved by goalkeeper Anthony Lopes.

Below is a video containing a piece of both instances.